The Biz Foundry begins 11th year of serving Upper Cumberland entrepreneurs
Jeff Brown, who is the only leader the organization has known, shares the evolution of the entrepreneur center and priorities for the future.
One could easily say that when you think of The Biz Foundry, you immediately think of Jeff Brown. He’s the only leader the Upper Cumberland’s entrepreneur center has ever known since its official launch July 1, 2013.
Now, as it begins its 11th year of operation, we talked with the always upbeat Brown about the early days, the evolution of programming and the ecosystem, and what the future looks like.
He is a Tennessee Tech University graduate and former Cumberland County Commissioner who became a contractor for Roane State Community College’s UC Success Now accelerator in 2012. Brown worked out of the college’s Crossville campus before a new nonprofit was created to assume responsibility for entrepreneurial support services in the region.
“We had $30,000 to get started,” Brown says as the six founding members of his nonprofit board of directors pledged $5,000 each.
The Biz Foundry relocated to Cookeville and moved into a building provided by the Cookeville Regional Medical Center. It later moved in late 2017 into a building it purchased and renovated at 114 North Cedar Avenue in Downtown Cookeville. That location was expanded again a few years later, roughly doubling the size of space for entrepreneurs.
In 2019, The Biz Foundry also expanded to two other Upper Cumberland communities, opening co-working spaces in Sparta and McMinnville.
The organization is one of the seven regional entrepreneur centers that receive some of their funding from Launch Tennessee. Two more are expected to be added soon to serve lower Middle Tennessee and Northwest Tennessee.
Like its sibling centers, Brown and his team are also fundraising through grants and other sources. He notes proudly that the City of Cookeville has been a supporter for years, but now allocates its funding from an economic development-related category which underscores the important role that his organization plays.
When it launched in 2013, Brown says the very first program The Biz Foundry offered was Springboard which eventually became the well-known CO.STARTERS program. Now, the entrepreneur center “uses the best of the business model canvas and has added a few nuts and bolts” to create its own version named “Startup Your Start-Up.”
Today, the programming is a mixture of everything from entrepreneurial education around financial matters and mentoring to the annual “Made Here Market.”
Access to capital is always top of mind for entrepreneurs, so it is a priority for Brown, too.
“We’ve helped raise $13 or $14 million for start-ups in the past 10 years,” he says.
As previously reported in teknovation.biz, Brown is leading efforts in conjunction with the Appalachian Investors Alliance to raise a fund that can help leverage the new “InvestTN” fund. “We have not closed escrow yet, but we are finding a lot more interested investors,” he says.
Brown wants to hire a Capital Navigator to help those needing capital find the right source. He’s also working with the Upper Cumberland Development District on a micro-loan fund.
“We need to keep building the capital stack and move toward more high-growth businesses,” Brown says.